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County's beasts reside in the east

Land O'Lakes, Pasco, Wesley Chapel and Zephyrhills have been the better teams in the season's first two weeks.

By JAMAL THALJI

© St. Petersburg Times,
published September 11, 2001


U.S. 41 -- Is the east side the best side?

Yeah, pretty much.

So far, anyway.

Using U.S. 41, the highway that splits Pasco County in half, as a landmark, consider the terrain and records.

Just two weeks into the season, the four schools east of U.S. 41 are a combined 7-1. The five schools west of U.S. 41 are a combined 3-7.

The lone east side loss came against another east side team, when Zephyrhills defeated Land O'Lakes 21-12 on Friday. The west side is 0-5 against the east side. It looks like the new districts, new schedules and familiar county foes are paying off already -- for half of the county, anyway. And until a team west of U.S. 41 can prove otherwise, the east side will continue to rule.

Undefeated Pasco and Zephyrhills once again are playoff contenders. And for the first time in three years, the Pirates (2-0) are in contention for the Sunshine Athletic Conference title. Pasco seems revitalized after consecutive 4-6 seasons, thanks to several a host of talented backs, including Devon Hicks, Anton Standifer and Devorian Burns.

"I'm very happy. We seem to be getting better and better every week," Pirates coach Ricky Thomas said. "That's all you can ask for. The kids seem to be very focused, and they seem to be improving every week."

The Bulldogs (2-0) are the defending SAC champions, and they have grown stronger each week.

"They're about right where they should be," Zephyrhills coach Tom Fisher said. "We're not as good as we need to be yet, but it's too early to be on top of your game."

Land O'Lakes has been the only county team to make the playoffs the past two seasons and the only one to win a district title. The Gators (1-1) are still in the race for the SAC title and playoff berth.

Wesley Chapel (2-0) is the surprise of the season.

Then again, maybe not. The Wildcats (2-0) shook off a lackluster preseason and are off to the best start in the program's three-year history.

And they have a huge advantage in the SAC race: the Bulldogs, Gators and Pirates visit Wildcat Stadium this season.

Wesley Chapel coach John Castelamare's main concern now is controlling his players' egos and expectations. In a 6-0 preseason jamboree loss to Springstead, Wesley Chapel looked overconfident, lackadaisical and easily frustrated.

But in a 39-0 win at River Ridge on Friday, it looked completely different: hungry, aggressive and mentally tough.

But far tougher games remain. "We'll see how they can handle it," Castelamare said. "I don't consider us a front-runner because Zephyrhills and Pasco are pretty good, too. We'll find out more in the coming weeks."

In fact, the playoff race has become much more interesting because three of the county's best teams -- Pasco, Wesley Chapel and Zephyrhills -- play in Class 3A, District 7. Only two can earn automatic postseason bids. The third must hope for an at-large bid.

The west side has had some surprises as well.

Hudson is off to a 2-0 start for the first time in coach Terry Voyles' three seasons. Gulf has the only other west side victory, taking a close one from Ridgewood.

Friday, Hudson visits Zephyrhills in a meeting of surprising unbeatens.

River Ridge is the most disappointing surprise. It fell by two points to Pasco on the road in the season-opener then were walloped by Wesley Chapel.

Yet while the Royal Knights are out of the SAC race, they have yet to play a district game. The 4A-6 title could be decided when Central visits the Jim Valentine Athletic Complex on Friday. And a win could help salvage its season.

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